Canon SX210 IS Review
|Dimensions:||4.2 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
(106 x 59 x 32 mm)
|Weight:||7.5 oz (212 g)
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Overview
Reviewed by Dan Havlik and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 05/18/2010
For a $350 pocket camera, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS certainly has a lot going for it. For starters there's the impressive 14x optical zoom, equivalent to a 28mm to 392mm range on a 35mm camera, providing everything from a useful wide-angle to a powerful telephoto. To keep those zoomed shots steady, Canon has paired the lens with a true optical image stabilization system for combatting blur from camera shake. Aperture ranges from f/3.1 to f/5.9 across the zoom range, so whether you're capturing sweeping shots of the Grand Canyon or zoomed in close-ups of wildlife, the Canon PowerShot SX210 is designed to be the only camera you'll need.
Like several of Canon's latest PowerShot digital cameras, the SX210 IS uses a 14.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CCD image sensor which can shoot between ISO 80 and 1,600. Along with the classic pre-set scene modes you'll find on most point-and-shoots, Canon's added several fun new settings to the SX210 IS including Fish-eye and Miniature, which mimic the effects you get with high-priced specialty lenses for digital SLRs. In addition to the Face Detection self-timer available on previous models, the Canon SX210 adds Smile and Wink modes where the camera will wait to take the picture only when it detects a smile or after a wink from the subject. Meanwhile, Canon's Smart FE (Flash Exposure) function is designed to optimize and not overdo flash so you don't "nuke out" your subject; and the Low Light mode increases ISO to 6,400 while dropping resolution to 3.5 megapixels.
Though it doesn't have an optical viewfinder, the camera's 3-inch LCD screen with 230,000 dots of resolution helps with framing your shots. LCD coverage is close to 100% so what you see on the screen is what you'll capture when you press the shutter. Though the screen crops down to the 4:3 aspect ratio when shooting still images, you'll get full 16:9 widescreen coverage on the LCD when using the Canon SX210's movie mode. And the movie mode is a good one, offering high definition 720p (1280 x 720) or standard definition video capture at either VGA (640 x 480) or QVGA (320 x 240) resolution. Frame rate for movie clips is 30 frames per second in the Motion JPEG AVI format with sound recorded in stereo.
To view your high-def footage from the camera on your flat-screen HDTV, just use the Canon SX210's mini-HDMI port though, as with most digital cameras, there's no HDMI cable included in the box. One of the biggest improvements to the Canon SX210 is mechanical. A major annoyance on the SX200 IS was its pop-up flash, which couldn't be closed when the camera was on. Now, with the SX210 IS, all you have to do is place a finger over the flash to keep it down.
The Canon SX210 comes in three colors: black, purple, and gold, and retails for US$350. Let's take a closer look.
Canon SX210 User Reportby Dan Havlik
A lot of digital cameras seem to suffer from the Goldilocks Syndrome: this one's big and too pricey; that one's small and doesn't have enough features; but nothing out there is just right. One camera that seems to be making a bid for the "just right" slot is the 14MP, 14x optical zoom Canon PowerShot SX210 IS. Indeed, the Canon SX210 digital camera hits so many sweet spots for consumers: it's small enough to take on a trip, has a long zoom with optical image stabilization and retails for under $400, it makes you wonder what Canon left out. In terms of design and image quality, not much: this is a great little camera that's the perfect traveling companion for any family vacation.
Look and Feel. Available in three different colors -- our test model was classic black with silver trim -- the Canon SX210 could easily be mistaken for a "style" camera but it has more horsepower than that. With dimensions of 4.2 x 2.3 x 1.3 inches (106 x 59 x 32mm) and a weight of 7.5 ounces (212 grams) with the battery and card, the Canon SX210 is easily small and light enough to fit in a small bag or a coat pocket. The camera's rectangle shape with smooth, rounded edges is also ergonomically pleasing, though its protruding lens housing might get snagged when trying to retrieve it from a pocket or bag. I particularly liked the shallow trough on the top and sides of the Canon SX210 which allowed for a firm grip on the camera.
Though it looks and feels solid, the camera is made of polycarbonate and aluminum, and is comfortable to hold and shoot with even if some of the camera's controls -- such as the zoom toggle -- are a bit small for my large hands. The round, metallic shutter button is a nice size for a camera this compact, though, and when you power on the Canon SX210, it feels ready to take pictures.
Speaking of powering on the Canon SX210, once the camera is engaged it loses it compactness, as the 14x zoom telescopes out. (Not surprising.) Depending on where you place your left finger, you may also feel the flash trying to pop up. Putting a little pressure on it will keep it down which is a big change from the previous model which always extended the flash when it was powered on, even when you didn't want it. One other thing you might notice about the Canon SX210 is its recessed stereo microphone on top for recording sound with movies.
Controls. As mentioned in the previous section, the controls, particularly the zoom toggle on top, are a bit small for people with large hands and fingers, but it turns out they're not difficult to adjust. Hitting the tiny recessed power button on top will extend the 14x zoom and trigger the pop-up flash if you need it. (Otherwise just press the small flash back down.) Moving the Canon SX210's little zoom toggle on top to the right zooms in on your subject while moving it to the left zooms out.
The knurled mode dial on the top right rear of the Canon SX210 is easy to reach with your thumb, though changing settings on it takes some force. A tight mode dial that locks in settings is preferable to a loose one which can be accidentally switched, especially when it lies under the thumb; it might have been made a little looser, but it's a minor point.
Conversely, switching between shooting photos and HD video on the Canon SX210 is a very fluid process thanks to the dedicated Movie button on back of the camera, which is identified with a red dot. Pressing the button almost immediately starts the video mode with the LCD screen switching from 4:3 to widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. This came in handy while photographing a concert as I was easily able to begin shooting a movie clip when the singer performed one of my favorite songs.
Pressing the Playback button to the right of the movie button calls up images or videos on the nice, large 3-inch screen. With 230,000 dots of resolution, image/video playback looks crisp on the LCD. To zero in on close-up detail of a shot, use the zoom toggle during image playback. Below the Playback button is a small Command dial which controls some settings and lets you scroll through images. In the center of the dial is a Function/Set button which calls up the function menu overlay on the left side of the LCD during shooting or playback. Below the command dial are a Display button for changing data read-out on the screen and a Menu button for calling up menus.
Lens. The lens on the Canon SX210 cranks the zoom even further than its predecessor, moving up from a 12x to an extremely versatile 14x optical zoom. That's impressive for a camera this small, offering the equivalent of 28mm to 392mm on a 35mm camera. (There's also an additional 4x of digital zoom, but we avoided using it because it degrades picture quality.) The lens aperture ranges from f/3.1 to f/5.9 which, as expected, moves to the smaller apertures (higher f/stop numbers) as you zoom. The result is slightly darker zoomed shots, but that's the price you pay in a camera this small with such a long focal range.
Overall, though, the lens produced excellent image quality with impressive sharpness in good light. If there were some softness in the corners of images -- both at wide-angle and telephoto -- it wasn't any more pronounced than you'd find with other compact cameras with shorter zooms. Even better, the camera's image stabilizer was very effective in maintaining sharpness when racked all the way out to 14x. Birders and nature lovers will find this camera more than adequate for getting decent shots of wildlife. (We got some nice shots of a shy robin hidden in the overhanging branches of a tree.) At the same time, the 28mm wide end of the lens is great for landscape photos or family portraits.
Where the lens falters slightly was in Macro shots. As was the case with the previous model, while close-ups of flowers and other plant-life looked sharp on the camera's LCD, when reviewed full screen on a computer monitor they were disappointingly soft. So while this may not be the ideal close-up lens, it succeeds it so many other ways with rich detail, accurate color and impressive sharpness, it's hard to knock it.
Modes. Canon doesn't skimp on the mode options for the SX210 IS, offering a slew of presets for beginners and enough manual settings to keep more experienced photographers happy. The main settings are available via the mode dial on the rear of the camera and include such standard options as Easy, Auto, Program, and the more popular presets such as Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, and a setting that optimizes the camera for Indoor shooting.
You can dig a little deeper by turning to SCN on the dial, which accesses the Special Scene modes including Low Light (max 6,400 ISO at 3.5 megapixel resolution), Beach, Foliage, Snow, and Fireworks. Even more unique is the Smart Shutter mode which gives you the Face, Smile, and Wink self-timer options. And if you really want to try something fun, there's a Fish-eye setting and a Miniature mode which mimics the effect of a Tilt-Shift lens on digital SLR.
While the Fish-eye worked well in creating fun, distorted close-up shots, we had less success with the Miniature mode, which deliberately blurs the edges of an image to create a very narrow plane of focus. As with true Tilt-Shift lenses, if you really want to produce the "toy" or "miniature" look with this mode, shoot down on a scene from above, preferably something with people or vehicles in it to "miniaturize." More seasoned photographers will appreciate that Canon's kept the Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority (TV), and Manual (M) options on the Canon SX210's mode dial as well.
Menu. Canon doesn't take too many liberties with the menu options on the SX210 IS and even first-time users should be able to figure out the settings relatively quickly. In shooting mode, hitting the menu button calls up a two-tab layout with photography settings under the camera icon, and internal adjustments under the wrench/hammer icon. Under the shooting settings tab, you're given the option of adjusting the Continuous AF; AF-assist Beam, Safety MF, Flash Settings, Image Review duration, Review Info, and Display Overlay, among others. Scroll further down and you can adjust the IS (Image Stabilizer) mode, Date Stamp and assign custom settings for the Movie button. (Note that the menu appears in a wider format on the camera than it does in our animation.)
In the Playback mode, there are basic options to run a slideshow of your images, erase, protect, rotate or pick favorites. You can also do some basic image editing right in the camera including auto contrast adjustment, red-eye correction, trimming and resizing. The Playback menu offers a tab for basic printing options for your images directly from the camera. Under the wrench/hammer icon in playback mode, you can adjust some camera operations including turning on or off sound and adjusting sound options; turning on or off "hints & tips"; formatting your memory card; lens retract time; power saving modes; time zone adjustment; date and time setting, language selection, and other settings.
The Function menu lives under the Func/Set button. It's a modified version of the old Function menu that was a whole lot easier to use. This one looks more slick, but is a little more difficult to use. Menus roll like a slot machine wheel, and once you've found the item you want to adjust, you have to toggle right on the Multicontroller to select the next wheel to make your selection there. Not ideal. The Multi-controller itself has no silkscreened icons on or around it, but it still serves to access Focus, Exposure compensation, Flash mode, and Self-timer options. Just press lightly on the Multi-controller and an icon appears onscreen representing the dial. Not a bad idea for a camera which little room thanks to the very wide screen.
Storage and Battery. The Canon SX210 IS takes a standard SD memory card (2GB or less) which is loaded next to the battery in a slot on the bottom of the camera. The slot is covered by a locking, slide-out plastic door. The camera is also compatible with SDHC memory cards (more than 2GB, up to and including 32GB), SDXC memory card (more than 32GB) and Eye-Fi wireless transfer cards. When shooting at the 14-megapixel, Large (4,320 x 3,240) setting, a 4GB memory card in the SX210 IS can record up to 1,058 JPEG images. (There is no RAW setting.) A 16GB memory card can record up to 4,334 Large JPEGs.
The Canon SX210 uses a proprietary NB-5L Lithium-ion rechargeable battery with a CIPA rating of 260 shots per charge. The battery is stored in a slot on the bottom of the Canon SX210 next to the memory card.
Shooting with the Canon SX210 IS
As mentioned already, the Canon SX210 makes a great little traveling companion and I spent several sunny days traipsing around New York City with it, photographing and shooting movies of friends, family, children, dogs, street life, parks, and even a concert. Though it's packed with features including its impressive 14x zoom lens, the Canon SX210 fit easily into my inside coat pocket right next to my iPhone.
On the subway ride down to meet an old friend for lunch, I pulled the camera out of my pocket and inconspicuously fired off a few candid shots of my fellow subway riders. Since it's virtually silent when you turn the sound off and keep the flash pressed down, no one seemed the wiser that I was photographing them. The lighting in the subway was poor so I cranked the ISO to 800, set the optical image stabilizer to Continuous, and fired away.
While none of these shots were masterpieces -- Walker Evans can rest easy -- they were decent, and at ISO 800, image noise was noticeable but not distracting. At ISO 1,600, there was a lot more noise but considering that the Canon SX210 squeezes 14 megapixels onto such a small image sensor, it could've been much worse. Lighting in the restaurant was better than it had been on the subway but was still a bit dark, and even though I could've added a little fill with the camera's small and slightly underpowered pop-up flash, I decided to keep it down.
My flashless, ISO 800 shots of my friend and her three-year-old son weren't as crisp as I may have liked -- a little bit of motion blur despite the high ISO and image stabilizer -- but they weren't bad either. I especially liked the natural, candid look of the photos with bold, but not over-saturated color and accurate skin tones.
If there's one shortcoming to the Canon SX210 as a candid shooter is it's overall sluggishness. It takes about a second or two to start up, a second or two to focus in low light, and a second or two to cycle from shot to shot. All told that adds up to a lot of seconds, so if you're planning to photograph a skittish subject with the Canon SX210 -- my friend's son had missed his nap time and was getting restless -- you're going to have to do a lot of pre-focusing to keep up. (Once you've prefocused, shutter lag isn't a problem.)
Out on the street in the daylight, the Canon SX210 was faster, if not quite a speed demon. While walking down a street in Chelsea, I spotted a cute dog carrying a newspaper in its mouth. After asking the owner if it was okay to take the photo, I bent down and got a couple of frame-worthy shots of the dog.
I then brought the camera to the High Line, a park in Manhattan that was created from old, elevated subway tracks. When I pulled the zoom back to 28mm, it was certainly wide enough to photograph the park and the surrounding cityscape, but I would've liked it to be just a notch or two wider, as on some competing models that go as wide as 24mm. OK, maybe that's asking a lot from a camera that already offers an abundance of riches, but it would be nice for the follow-up model.
In the evening, I brought the camera to a concert, and its discrete design, surprisingly good low light abilities, and long zoom let me sneak some shots and videos of the performers without causing too much of a ruckus. Speaking of videos, the 720p HD movie setting produced bright and sharp footage that stayed steady even when zoomed in to 14x. Fortunately, unlike the previous model, you can optically zoom while shooting movies.
As an outdoor landscape and nature camera, the Canon SX210 fared well and I was able to get some nice shots of the Hudson River, George Washington Bridge, and surrounding wildlife including birds and squirrels. I do wish it was a better Macro camera, though. While many of my shots of flowers and plant life look sharp and colorful on the Canon SX210's 3-inch screen, they were surprisingly soft when I viewed them on my computer screen.
Overall, though, shooting with the Canon SX210 was a very pleasurable experience, and if you're looking for a compact and relatively inexpensive "do-everything" camera, this latest SX-series model from Canon has the goods.
See below for the results of our laboratory test shots and final conclusion.
Canon PowerShot SX210 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Softest in lower right corner
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Quite soft, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon SX210's zoom is fairly sharp from center to corner in all but the lower right corner, which is quite soft. The telephoto end shows stronger blurring in the corners, which extends a little further in toward center than we typically like to see.
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: Moderate pincushion distortion, slightly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at the Canon SX210's wide-angle setting is moderate (0.4%), as is pincushion distortion (0.2%) at telephoto. In both cases, the distortion is mild enough that it doesn't detract too much from the overall image.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is quite bright, with strong green and purplish pixels glowing along either side of the target lines. At telephoto, the distortion is again strong and quite visible, though somewhat intensified by strong blurring in the corners of the frame. This is not unusual, though, for a lens with a 14x zoom range.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS' Macro mode captures fairly sharp details at the center of the frame, though blurring is strong around a wide perimeter of the frame (enough that the edge of the brooch looks like it's behind a glass of water). Minimum coverage area is 2.74 x 2.05 inches (70 x 52mm). Flash coverage is quite uneven, with the lower right corner in total darkness and a strong hot spot in the top left. External lighting will be your best bet with close-ups like this.
Canon SX210 Image Quality
Color: Like many consumer digital cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS oversaturates strong red and blue tones a small amount. It also gives brighter greens a little nudge, while bright yellows are actually a hint undersaturated. Hue accuracy is fair, though bright yellows are a little green, cyan is pushed strongly toward blue (presumably for brighter blue skies), and reds migrate toward orange. Lighter skin tones are almost spot on, while darker skin tones show an orange cast. Still, good results overall.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail remains strong up to ISO 200, where evidence of noise suppression creeps into the lower contrast areas. At ISO 400, detail is still somewhat distinct, though blurring is more noticeable. Both chroma (color) and luminance noise are pretty well controlled to about ISO 800, where both overcome the camera's noise suppression efforts. ISO 3,200 images are limited to 2,144 x 1,608 pixels, which helps decrease the effects of noise and noise suppression. See Printed results below for more on how this will affect printed images.
Wide: Slightly dim
Tele: Also slightly dim
Auto WB: Close, a hint red
Incandescent WB: Too pink
Manual WB: Very good
Incandescent: The Manual white balance setting performed best under our tough household incandescent lighting. Auto produced pretty good results, though slightly red, while the Incandescent mode was much too pink.
Printed: ISO 80 and 100 files look good printed at 20x30 inches, but fine detail is somewhat soft. Prints look much better printed at 16x21 inches, though a little more luminance noise affects shadows at ISO 100 than at 80.
ISO 200 shots are usable at 16x21, but are much better at 13x19 inches.
ISO 400 images are pretty good at 11x14, certainly fine for wall display, but softness in reds makes letter size prints preferable.
ISO 800 files print well at 8x10, except for the performance of some reds, which lose most detail.
ISO 1,600 shots look quite good at 5x7 inches.
ISO 3,200 files, which are made at reduced resolution, actually make decent 5x7-inch images as well.
Overall, not bad, pretty close to par with other pocket long-zoom digital cameras.
Canon SX210 Performance
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.46 second at both wide-angle and telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.089 second, slower than average, but still fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is a bit slow, capturing a frame every 2.8 seconds in single-shot mode, and every 1.18 second for a burst rate of 0.84 frames per second.
Flash Recycle: The PowerShot SX210 IS' modest flash recycles in a slow 7.8 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the Box
- Canon PowerShot SX210 IS digital camera
- Lithium-ion Battery Pack NB-5L
- Battery Charger CB-2LX
- Wrist Strap WS-DC9
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
- AV Cable AVC-DC400ST
Canon PowerShot SX210 Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot SX210's predecessor was a very popular camera with a few flaws. With this follow-up, Canon has ironed out some of the kinks of that earlier model and, in the process, created one of the best all-around, affordable compact cameras I've tried. The Canon SX210's impressive 14x (28mm-392mm equivalent) lens is capable of serving all your photographic needs on your next family vacation, whether it's taking group shots of loved ones or scenic landscapes; or zooming in on wildlife such as lions, tigers, or birds. (Oh my!) If the image quality isn't as good as a digital SLR or even a chunkier "super zoom" model, for a compact camera that fits in a coat pocket or a bag and costs under $400, it's a sweet deal. The Canon SX210 IS has one drawback, though: it's a slow performer, not uncommon in the pocket long zoom category: slow to start-up; slow shot-to-shot; and slow in image playback. If you want to take candids of kids or pets with this camera, be sure and pre-focus or you may miss the shot. While the bump up to 14 megapixels seems unnecessary, it doesn't dramatically affect image quality, with the Canon SX210 performing decently in low-light at ISO 800. Make no mistake though: the Canon SX210 is a fabulous little camera which offers a lot in a well-designed and highly portable package, and earns a Dave's Pick.
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